Patric Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl scored a minute apart in the first period, Matt Murray stopped 47 shots and the Pittsburgh Penguins took control of their Eastern Conference semifinal series with a 3-2 win in Game 3 on Monday.
Carl Hagelin added his third goal of the playoffs for Pittsburgh, which took a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series on another contentious night guaranteed to keep the NHL player safety office busy. Two days after Washington’s Brooks Orpik earned a three-game suspension for an illegal hit on Pittsburgh’s Olli Maatta, Penguins defenseman Kris Letang took a shot at Capitals forward Marcus Johansson sure to be reviewed before Wednesday’s Game 4.
Alexander Ovechkin and Justin Williams scored in the third, but the Capitals find themselves in a deficit against a franchise they have beaten just once in eight previous playoff meetings.
The Penguins were hardly crisp but turned Washington mistakes into goals while Murray did the rest. The 21-year-old rookie outplayed Vezina Trophy finalist Braden Holtby to move Pittsburgh within two wins of a spot in the conference finals.
Playing with the urgency they lacked early in a 2-1 loss in Game 2, the Capitals outshot Pittsburgh, 49-23, and outhit the Penguins, 58-25. It hardly mattered.
The NHL’s best team during the regular season has just one goal in the last six periods against Murray, who is playing so well Marc-Andre Fleury — who dressed for the first time since suffering a concussion on March 31 — might want to get used to the view on the bench.
Wearing the same Pittsburgh gold uniforms that team owner Mario Lemieux wore during the club’s consecutive Stanley Cup runs in 1991 and 1992 — runs that included victories over Washington — it seemed like old times for the Penguins. The defense in front of Murray was steady even with Derrick Pouliot making his playoff debut while replacing Maatta, who is out indefinitely after taking a shot to the head from Orpik.
Pittsburgh’s depth at the blue line could be tested in Game 4 after Letang made a run at Johansson that had some of the hallmarks of the elbow Orpik threw at Maatta. Johansson was skating into the offensive zone when he was headed off by four Penguins. The puck was steered away and long gone by the time Letang turned toward Johansson and launched himself into the forward. Letang earned a penalty for interference and Johansson remained on the ice for several moments before skating away.
Unlike Maatta, Johansson returned. By then, however, the Capitals were already on their heels after the Penguins counterattacked brilliantly. Sidney Crosby keyed a rush that ended with Conor Sheary chasing down a blocked shot in the corner and feeding it to Trevor Daley at the point. Hornqvist reached out and expertly smacked the puck off the ice, allowing it to skid right by Holtby to give Pittsburgh a lead perhaps it didn’t deserve just 6:37 into the game.